Oil drilling and fracking are big in North America, but they generate a lot of "brine," the wastewater that is used to crack open the rocks containing the gas and oil. (That's why it is called fracking, short for Hydraulic Fracturing). A lot of that brine is being spread on roadways to melt ice or keep the dust down, just like they used to do with PCB oil.
UPDATE The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection advises that wastewater from fracked wells has never been allowed to be spread, and that since last year, none has been applied.
The trouble is, this brine has a few other things in it, including heavy metals, organic contaminants and radium. Kristina Marusic writes in Environmental Health News about a new report:
Researchers have found that nearly all of the metals from brine leach out from roadways when it rains, and they speculate that the pollutants could wind up in nearby bodies of water and find their way into local drinking water sources.... In their report, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the researchers noted that in Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2014, spreading oil and gas wastewater on roads released more than four times more radium to the environment (320 millicuries) than was released from oil and gas wastewater treatment facilities, and 200 times more radium than spills. Some lead and radium was also found to settle into roadways.
Radium used to be considered great stuff, but people learned pretty quickly that it caused cancer rather than curing it. Then there is the question of whether the brine even worked at all at controlling dust.
"Our recommendations for moving forward include setting a limit on radioactivity, reducing the amount of organics, and frankly, testing whether brine even works," Warner said. "If it doesn't work any better than water at suppressing dust, maybe we just don't need to be doing this."
But hey, when it comes to melting snow, the heat from radioactive decay can only help.